As Goa Prepares to host BRICS…



When any State summit takes place, and that too of an international dimension, it is important for the host location to be familiar with what is going to be deliberated on their soil. However there is no such visible effort by the State to acquaint or involve host Goa in the BRICS Summit deliberations, except for sprucing up roads.


So what is BRICS? BRIC was basically a formation of Brazil, Russia, India and China that has roots in 2006 with the meeting of its leaders while they were attending the UN General Assembly and noted the inequities of the economic system where some countries stood privileged over others in determining the shape of things all over the world to their advantage. South Africa was admitted to the BRIC formation in 2010 and then it became BRICS.


All the countries in BRICS had at one stage or the other challenged the charting out of a development that leaves out the voices of these countries. These were also, (and they continue to be), rising powers from the developing world that have been confronted by US superpower. The peoples of BRICS countries have experienced the consequences of a global politics that bypasses the voices of developing and underdeveloped countries in forging a world order. Consequently, the economies of these countries get tied to the apron strings of international financial institutions who set conditionalities for the loans that are advanced to the developing countries, while plunging the countries into deep debt, akin to today’s banking system, where an individual loanee gets swallowed, with the nature of the system including the interest structure and the pattern of investment by these banks.


The conditionalities, euphemistically called structural adjustment programmes, have included calling upon loanee countries to reversing fought-for robust processes of democratic governance. These conditionalities included adjusting the labour law machinery in a way that snatched away the rights it potentially guaranteed to the working class. These conditionalities also included setting up dispute resolution processes in international trade deals which tone down the obligations of the multinational companies while placing the poorer countries at risk of the acts of the companies, be it the consequences of pollution or of the irresponsible and extractive appropriation of profits, emanating from these deals.


Given the control that the US as a superpower had in world politics, it meant clipping and challenging this power, to pave way for rehauling the conditionalities and the determination or writing off of debt, by restructuring the global financial institutions. So BRICS was precisely the formation well poised to counter US control in world politics and bring to the table the framework of equality, solidarity, mutual development and cooperation, in realising a new world vision of development.


For this, it was and is necessary to look at development from the lens of the peoples of these countries who had the experience of development propagated by the superpowers which, for instance, marginalised their agricultural and industrial sector to bolster the multinational company-led agricultural and industrial sector. It was necessary after hearing out the voices of the excluded to envision a new architecture for the international financial institutions, that is appropriate to the needs, realities and aspirations of its people, repeat, its people, not its leadership and its elites.


Initially these countries did try to forge synergies in the areas of environmental and disaster management, in pharmaceuticals, metallurgy, biotechnology and tourism. But as these synergies were being forged, these countries were also rising as powers themselves, who were replicating the same styles of power that they set out to counter with the grouping as BRICS. However these are countries with a robust civil society. Will people push their countries to stick to the initial agenda of BRICS for a new equitable world order?


Pertinent questions are being asked such as: who will interconnectness assist?, how can we harness our existing legislation to address illegalities or criminality without imposing draconian legislation to stifle political dissent and create hype against the countries’ neigbours in the name of counter-terrorism? How can these countries cooperate in dealing with trafficking? How will the New Development Bank proposed by BRICS countries be different from the International Monetary Fund or World Bank, in a way that their loans can reach those countries and people who most need them and not breed big time bank defrauding violators who squeeze finances as they enjoy a flamboyant lifestyle and flee the country? How will energy be harnessed or industrialisation be effected so as to be inclusive? How will gender  bias, casteism and differences on the basis of class or ethnic origin not be reinforced in the new vision? Will they break bread with Palestine again, and be the staunch opponents of illegal occupation of Palestine that they once were?


So that they set up an ethic where peace is not forged by illegal occupation? So that cooperation, rather than destructive competition and war, are the planks of development that ensures basic needs of food clothing and shelter and affordable and accessible health services and education to the entire citizenry of the world in the new world order? So they do not do unto other underdeveloped or developing countries what they did not like developed countries doing to themselves, so that they do not do to the people on the margins within their own countries what they did not like the developed countries doing to them?


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 8 September, 2016)


The Rise of the Villament: The New Investment Buzzword That Will Hit Goa


Villament has already become a buzzword in Bangalore’s real estate lexicon (Anshul Dhamija, TOI: 2011). It is a concept that is gaining popularity, writes Dhamija, with those who want the luxury of a villa and yet crave the comfort and convenience an apartment affords. A villament is a large duplex apartment, usually with a double-height living room, large balconies and, most importantly, a terrace with a garden which gives the feeling that one is on the ground despite living in a high-rise building. Although the Goan real estate market is still rife with villas and apartments as separate building types, one can wager that the arrival of villaments is not too far off.

But before we focus on the impending arrival of villament-type developments in Goa, let us reflect on the current popular building type in the real-estate market, the vacation-house. In his seminal essay ‘A time for space and a space for time: the social production of the vacation house’ (Society and Architecture: 1980), sociologist-historian Anthony King broadly defines the vacation-house as the occasional residence of a household that usually lives elsewhere and which is primarily used for recreational purposes. He argues that the capitalist economy produces not only a surplus of wealth, but also, for a sizeable minority, a surplus of time. King claims that the motives of owning vacation homes include seeking compensation for city living, understood as escaping from perceived overcrowding, noise, traffic congestion, air pollution, and the pressures of city life (p.194). No wonder then that the elites of the large metropolises like Bombay and Delhi seek to own a vacation home in Goa, as it is perceived as a perfect holiday destination with its sun, sea, and sand, apart from the Europeanised atmosphere that they don’t find anywhere else in India.

However, the vacation house is not simply a house; its very architecture differs from a full-time residence. King argues that the ideological preference for ‘nature’ results in a preference for country or semi-wilderness locations, preferably with extensive views. He says that these purpose-built houses have features which integrate the ‘indoors’ and ‘out of doors’ and at its most extreme, whole walls and roofs are cast as windows, giving extensive vistas of vegetation, or views of distant fields and beaches. King further elaborates that in densely settled vacation areas, the vacation homes are of courtyard plan, where their occupants turn their backs on the outside world to gaze at the enclosed vegetation of the court within. The vacation-houses also use artificially produced ‘natural’ materials like the rough-cut timber, cane, grass matting, hand-woven fabrics; again these are attributes, King claims, of an ideology that is anti-urban, anti-industrial, and desirous of a ‘simple life’. The strongest criticism that King confers on this type of lifestyle is that “[o]nly for the materially satiated did the ‘simple life’ have an appeal; the ‘Great Outdoors’ was attractive only if one had comfort within” (p.213).

During the 1990s, large vacation houses in Goa were generally the affairs of the super-rich, like the Mallyas, who owned sprawling properties on ‘virgin’sites overlooking the sea. Now, the situation has changed as a large number of the rising urban upper class, from Indian metros, are buying second homes in Goa.The surplus wealth created in metros gives these urban elites an advantage to invest in a comparatively cheaper real-estate market of Goa.The investment though is not limited to buying vacant land and villas, as many are also buying apartments to fulfil their need to have a second home in this Europeanised holiday destination. But it stands to reason that these investors will not be happy with simply buying any apartments. They would want their apartments to have the feel and features of vacation-houses. And this is where the concept of villaments with catch up, as it promises the luxury and feel of a villa yet is relatively affordable due to the stacking of many units on one piece of land. With the villament-type developments, the holiday homes in Goa are all set to go high-rise.

Increasingly, Goa as a tourist destination is not just in demand to be consumed for its ‘sights’, but worryingly, through ‘sites’, by the process of ownership, of this land and properties, by tourists (Raghuraman Trichur, Refiguring Goa: 2013). So,“What can we understand about a society by examining its buildings and physical environment?”(King: 1980).To say the least,the current real-estate developments in Goa reflect the aspirations of urban Indian society much more than the local needs of average Goans. While popular belief directs attention against the nibbling away of land by the poor migrants, one should be aware that the large, elite, property sharks from the Indian metros, ably aided by the local real estate industry, are taking bigger bites of this scarce land, and that too as a second, or a third, helping, in their insatiable lust for property ownership and leisure.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 13 September, 2015)